This may sounds counter-intuitive, but the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms are actually the direct cause of the rise of the super wealthy as even bigger players in politics than they have always been. It banned huge amounts of money from being donated directly to political parties, but that resulted in even more money going to less regulated outside groups instead.
I wrote about this in my latest piece at WNYC’s It’s a Free Country:
Although some of those rules have since been overturned, the ban on soft money is still in place, and the power of political parties has waned. But the monied interests didn’t just pack up and go home after they were barred from as direct a control over the political process, as huge soft money donations allowed them. They just found other avenues to exert influence with their money.
It is no coincidence that we’ve seen the power of political action committees (PACs) and 501(c)4 nonprofits – so called ‘Super PACs’, as they don’t have donation limits – since the soft money ban was put in place.
But this is how the march towards reform goes. You find one avenue of corruption and undue political influence, you come up with a way to mitigate or block it, and you wait for special interests to adapt to the new situation. When they do, you look for ways to mitigate those, and push for them.
Take a few steps forwards, and (hopefully) less steps backwards. This is how progress works.
I mention a couple of the ideas people have been floating on how we might begin to fix these problem, among other things. Check it out: